Mizo has 15 wives, 100 kids

Baktawng, India - A tribal Christian cult leader could well claim a slot in the Guinness Book of World Records, 15 wives and more than 100 children staying together.

"My father was married to 15 wives and we have more than 100 brothers and sisters although I am not sure about the exact number. Maybe it could be more than a hundred but definitely not less," 45-year-old Nunparliana, the eldest of the siblings, said.

The head of the family, 70-year-old Zionnghaka, is in good health although he prefers to shy away from the outside world and leads a solitary life inside their hilltop commune.

Three of Zionnghaka’s wives have died and as many have deserted him. The family practises a Christian cult called Channa, named after Zionnghaka’s father Challianchana who died in 1997.

Challianchana was believed to have had 50 wives, with Zionnghaka being the eldest of his many children — there is no count available of the number of children Challianchana had. The Channa cult founded by Challianchana some time in the early 1930s is now spread over four generations and boasts of having some 1,600 members. "We are all happy and like any other churches we believe in the existence of God but the only distinctive difference is that our denomination allows us to marry more than one wife," Nunparliana said.

From a playground to a school and a church, the village of Baktawng resembles any other tribal village but for the fact that the community members belong to one single family.

Most of the community members are today known across Mizoram for their skills in carving out wooden furniture and pottery items. The circumstances leading to the establishment of the cult was as bizarre as the traditions and practices followed by the Channa sect, whose ancestors worshipped a traditional drum called the "Khuang" until the arrival of the Welsh missionaries.

"The Welsh missionaries banned the worship of the Khuang. Upset over this, my grandfather Challianchana and his brother severed ties and founded this sect whom we call either Channa or the Lalpa Kohhran," another community member said.

But church leaders, Presbyterian being the dominant denomination, reject the cult’s claims to be Christians. "Christianity does not allow polygamy and hence accepting the cult as Christians does not arise at all. Polygamy is very rare in Mizoram," said Reverend Lalvirinawma, moderator of the Presbyterian Synod in Aizawl.